Shadow of a Doubt 1 of 2

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ShadowSmall.jpg In Fall of Night, things are never as they seem. Pascal Hunter is not in a good position to complain, as he’s a ghost working as a detective.

It is rare that his cases are as exotic as he is. This is one of them.

Everyone lies.

It’s a fact of life. Get enough liars together and it becomes a mystery. In Fall of Night, there’s one man to see about a mystery.

Pascal Hunter stumbled groggily through the door. The morning gloom almost made it through with him but was swallowed up by the darkness. The few people present stopped in surprise as he took an unsteady step forward.

“Coffee,” he commanded.

He stumbled into one of the tables in the Green Goose as the remaining diners returned to their plates. A clean shaved and muscular young man in a loose belted tunic strode to his table.

“Unless you’re dying, it’ll wait until after my coffee,” Pascal growled. “If it can’t, we’ll see what we can do about that dying thing.”

Never the fighter he pretended to be, Pascal already had three escapes planned if the stranger turned violent. It pays to be prepared. It wasn’t needed. The stranger shifted his weight awkwardly, started to speak, stopped, and finally said, “I’ll wait.” He sat down across from Pascal and drummed his fingers nervously.

A moment later a black haired man brought out a mug of coffee that Pascal took with gratitude. “Thanks, Vic. One for…”

“Cambrian,” the man said.

“One for Cambrian too,” and Pascal went back to silently sipping his cup.

They were a study in contrasts. Pascal was almost aggressively nondescript; in his late 30’s, neither fat nor thin, neither tall nor fat, with dark brown hair just touching his neck. Cambrian would stand out in any crowd. Tall, square jawed, and muscular; he could take to the football field without needing a uniform. His brown hair was cropped close to emphasize the strong lines of his face.

Paz looked deeper while pretending to concentrate on his coffee.

The boy was cold. He was not dressed for the weather. The Green Goose was in the Freezer, and the neighborhood was well named. His tunic was wrinkled from sitting in a car, but his slippers had been in stirrups recently. He carried a heavy pouch but didn’t guard it well.

Pascal put it together before he finished his coffee. Cambrian was not an experienced traveler; he switched from cars to horses too often. He wasn’t using his own money. His benefactor was the one sending him to meet the detective.

Fall of Night was the impossible city. It’s where reality went to die. At some point in the distant past the universe broke. Now shards of worlds, each with their own set of rules, floated aimlessly in the void. Many of them wash up and jostle uncomfortably against one another in the city. The rules of nature can change when you cross the street. It makes travel difficult. Cars don’t always work - in some places horses don’t work. Money eases many problems. That rule of nature seems to work everywhere.

He’d have preferred if it had taken Cambrian another hour. He could have waken up normally and even shaved. But the itch was growing.

Someone sent Cambrian. They gave him money, and a lot of it. The boy had to have left before dawn and raced through the cold. That meant this was important and the locals, whoever they were, couldn’t solve it.

“Who sent you?”

Cambrian almost jumped out of his seat.

He hadn’t touched his coffee and despite his twitching hands had simply been staring blankly ahead. Pascal understood; he was worried but also tired.

“Martan,” he answered quickly. The name didn’t mean anything to Pascal so he waited for his client to continue. “Aelune’s consort,” he explained uselessly.

“What does this Martan want, then?”

“It’s not for him,” Cambrian insisted, “It’s Aelune. She left and we need to find out who she is now. By sunset.”

It sounded like a missing persons case, except for one detail. “Find out who she is?”

“I’m from Crystal Vale,” the kid explained. “You know how it works there?”

“No.”

He tilted his head, puzzled. “Martan said… Never mind. Aelune is a spirit, she’s the High Spiritus. Well, Praetor now. They changed the title when we stopped worshiping her. She powers magic in the Vale; as long as she’s there it works but when she’s gone it doesn’t.

“Every so often she needs to take a new body. We need to install her by nightfall to get the magic back.”

Now it was Pascal’s turn to be puzzled, “We’re searching a whole shard to find out who this spirit possessed, and we have to do it in a day. This isn’t the first time, surely? You’ve got some procedure to follow, a way to identify her?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “But something is wrong. The Crystal Shell, her home, they sent up black smoke. Martan saw it and sent me to get you.”

Pascal leaned back and took a sip of coffee. “There’s got to be more than that.”

“No. Just that. Oh, Martan said to give you this.” From inside his tunic he drew out a small silver fish and dropped it on the table. “He said you’d know what it meant.”

Pascal stared at it. It was as clear as a live fish would have been. He couldn’t understand either of them.

A detective’s life is not always a safe one. His wasn’t. It had ended many years ago. He liked to think it had ended on an important case but he didn’t know for sure. Without a body, without a brain specifically, memories tended to bleed away. A quirk of the rules in the Freezer gave him a body again, and a semblance of a life, but he was still a ghost.

When in doubt, stare.

He gazed evenly at Cambrian. Finally the tunic-clad man blinked. “I can pay too,” he offered, holding up the heavy pouch. “There’s eighty pounds here, minus what we need to get back to Crystal Vale.”

“Does this Aelune have any enemies?”

“No,” he answered wide eyed. “Of course not. Well, yes, I suppose. I mean, Vynne.”

Pascal waved his hand impatiently when Cambrian stopped there.

“Vynne is the other spirit in Crystal Vale. They’re both stuck there since the Fracture, but we’ve only got the one Clear Stone. Aelune controls the stone and we get magic from her, but Vynne’s tried to take it before.”

This got better and better. An unknown client with an unknown problem and an immortal enemy who’s also unknown.

Throw in a time limit to boot and there was no way he would pass on this one. The money was a bonus, wild horses couldn’t keep him away.

“I can take a look,” he said while keeping his smile hidden.

Cambrian broke into a wide grin. “That’s great. Thank you, Mr. Hunter.”

“Vic,” Pascal called to his restaurant manager, “Sonya was going to come by tonight after her meeting with the Carrabach. Give her my regrets, would you?” A previous client, she had taken to seeing Pascal when she had business in the city. He’d succeeded in her case, and she considered him trustworthy as a result.

He went to his room to change while they waited for a carriage. On the case where he met Sonya he’d had to possess a woman, now her sister-in-law, and that experience had stuck with him. He forced himself to remember that he was not dressing to impress. Rather, he needed to impress with subtlety. A white shirt, narrow tie, and a long street coat made him look tough and gave him plenty of pockets. He checked the mirror to be sure he was presentable. Once he wouldn’t have cared, but this was the wage of possession.

He just had to remind himself that lipstick did not go with a tough guy image. He left the tube on the dresser.

---

Their carriage was waiting for them when Pascal came back downstairs. Calling it a carriage might be overstating the case. It was closer to a wooden box on wheels, but it had two horses and would be sufficient to get them to Crystal Vale without changing transport.

Cambrian ran into it to get out of the wind as quickly as possible, while Pascal climbed in after him. He hadn’t taken the time to shave, but at least had enough coffee to face the morning.

As the driver spurred on the horses, he turned to his client, “Now what’s the bad news, kid?”

When Cambrian looked at him in confusion, he clarified, “I know you were holding something back until I took the job. Spill it.”

A newborn babe couldn’t looked more innocent. If he was faking it, he had a career ahead of him in politics. “No. I told you all I know.”

“It’s going to be a long trip if you don’t have anything to say. I get antsy when I don’t know what I’m walking into, so why don’t you tell me more of what you do know? When you saw them send up a distress signal, why didn’t any of you go to help? Or did you?”

“No,” he was surprised for a moment, but then recovered. “When Aelune leaves, the Shell is sealed. No one can leave, and only the spirits can enter. We couldn’t get in if we wanted to, not until sunset anyway, and then it’s too late.”

Paz almost frowned, but kept his poker face in place. Staring straight ahead, “And if she isn’t there by sunset?”

The boy gasped, “Magic won’t work until she can change bodies again, and that can take years.” He paused and looked down, “It was tough getting out of the Vale, none of our sleds are working. I had to use a bicycle. We can deal with it if it’s only a day, but…”

“If I can’t go in, and only the people inside know what the problem is, how do you expect me to do anything?”

“Martan thinks you can get in, Mr. Hunter.”

“I see.” Ghost, spirit. How different can they be? It confirmed that this Martan did know Pascal, and knew him well enough to know he was a dead man. It wasn’t something he advertised. “Keep going. Who is Martan?”

“I thought you knew–” Cambrian stuttered. “Never mind. Sure. Martan is, that is, he was Aelune’s consort. One of them. It’s an important position.”

Paz raised an eyebrow.

“It is. Aelune’s children are wizards.” He pondered briefly before continuing, “Our shard does well when we’re part of Fall of Night. The crystal and the salt mines don’t run out.”

That was the city’s salvation. In many shards, you could dig to the limits and they’d refill, so you could pull out resources that shouldn’t be there. Some shards still drew power from outside, from a world that wasn’t there. Miracles kept the city moving.

Cambrian kept going, “When we’re in the void, though, the wizards are the difference between life and death. We don’t have a gate or any other way out, but they have strength and numbers and can keep us going. I don’t remember the last time we joined the city - I was too young - but I hear stories of what it was like. Even with all her power, Aelune can’t have children forever, so when her oldest starts showing his age, well that’s when she leaves.”

He was avoiding something. Just a little too careful when stepping around Martan’s position. “So Martan is one of her consorts. What’s your position? Why’d he send you?”

He flushed and looked like a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “I’m– When she has a new body she’ll be young again. She’ll need new consorts.”

“And you aim to be one of them,” interrupted Pascal.

“She,” the boy blushed and inflated his chest at the same time, “She has a type she likes. My grandmother was a wizard; I inherited my great grandfather’s looks. Aelune’s habits differ from body to body so I don’t know if she’ll want a harem or a husband, but I’ll try to be one she picks.”

That sounded interesting. “What do you mean, her habits differ? She’s not the same spirit?”

“No. No. It’s just, when she takes a new body she sometimes changes a bit. Not too much. It’s still her, but she’s different. Like she might like different foods - she didn’t like fish this last time.”

That rang true to Pascal. He hated possessing people. He had to lose his body to do it, and a real body was much stronger than an insubstantial wisp. Holding on to his personality was difficult. It sounded like spirits in this Crystal Vale had some advantages over him, but they weren’t completely in control.

“Are you sure Aelune is in the Shell? If I can’t get out, I don’t want to go in only to find out she’s still outside.”

“Yes. Well, probably. I heard it a few minutes before the smoke went up, and thought it was good news. There was a transformation,” he smiled like it was a joke, “at the Breathless Sigh.” After a moment, he added, “That’s a brothel. First I heard it was one of the ladies, but then someone else said it was a customer. Even heard it was the owner, so I don’t know. Everyone agrees someone in there changed.”

With a thoughtful expression, he added, “I mean, if it was one of the working ladies, she’d know what she was doing when– Well, I thought it was all over but waiting for night. Then they sent up smoke and Martan sent me to get you.”

No magic. That was the good news. He hated magic. So many varieties, he never knew what was going to happen. Magicians had ways of dealing with ghosts, and even when he had a body he was vulnerable to them.

Cars were whizzing by outside the cart as they changed shards. A horse drawn cart should be a problem, but most neighborhoods had adapted. Cross shard travel had to use the lowest common denominators, so drivers had to get used to slower travel on their roads. Horse drawn carts were common. There were only a few shards where horses or wheels didn’t work.

The case was going to be tough. He had a harsh deadline, didn’t know what he needed to solve, and was dealing with two near immortal opponents who probably hated each other. It took all his willpower not to break out in a smile.

---

Crystal Value tried to look pastoral, but to Pascal it looked like a battered wife who couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. Clusters of tall stone buildings, each over a hundred feet tall, towered above the trees and dirt roads that separated them. Relentlessly urban, the people couldn’t bring themselves to cut the ties to their country past and move forward. Instead they hung on desperately, hoping that one more tree or shrubbery would prove their dedication to the simple life.

The road was nearly empty. Abandoned metal platforms were common, most on the side of the road, but some right in the middle. Temporarily deprived of power, people left their transport and had to find other ways to get about.

“The Shell’s a bit further on,” Cambrian announced. With a pause, he turned to Pascal and spoke quickly, “I wish I could go in with you. Make sure to tell her how I helped. Please.”

The kid should stay far away from poker tables. Every thought passed easily across his broad face. Pascal promised.

“There it is,” he shouted while opening the door and leaping from the cart as it came to a halt. Pascal gave him a punishing glare and pointedly waited for the horses to stop before he got out.

The dark crystal temple towered above them, its central spire rising proudly towards the sun. Though the main spire dominated, a large number of smaller crystal spikes jutted from the building, making it look like some sort of stone porcupine. “Wait until night,” Cambrian interrupted as though reading Pascal’s mind, “The crystal turns translucent in the moonlight. Most beautiful sight you’ll ever see.”

“This way,” said an older man urgently when he saw them disembark. “We’re short on time.”

“Are you Martan? I need to know–” Pascal started.

“We got another burst of smoke,” the old man answered. “They need help.” He turned away before admitting, “We should probably come up with more signals. That’s all I know.”

Both the old man and Cambrian stopped suddenly, Cambrian looked like he’d hit something. Pascal couldn’t see the problem. “You’re on your own again, you bloody spirit,” the old man pronounced with a smile.

“I hate walking in blind,” Pascal complained. With a half smile, he added, “I’ll be sure to mention you, Cambrian.” The boy grinned like a five year old given a new piece of candy.

The doors opened as Paz approached. Just a crack, enough to squeeze through. He pushed them to make more room but they wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t dignified, but he pushed his way in. The doors closed with a decided finality as soon as he was through.

The entrance hall glowed, the polished marble floor reflected the light from the wall torches. Magnificent carvings along the wall showed what appeared to be athletic competitions conducted in the nude. A sign on a roped off area read “Tours every hour. Wait here.” Right next to it was a collection bin reading, “Your voluntary contributions help maintain the exhibits.”

Pascal did not have much time to contemplate the surroundings. A small woman barged into the hall a few moments after he entered.

“Glory on High,” she exclaimed, “They got in some help. I’d hoped–”

She paused, overcome. Her short iron gray hair hung almost to her shoulders, framing her square glasses. Her gray dress suit was stained along the side, and the blue cloth about her neck hung loose to the side. “You are here to help, right? How did you get in?”

“Pascal Hunter,” he introduced himself. Remembering Cambrian’s introduction at the Green Goose, he held out both his hands, palms up. She smiled and put her hands lightly on top of his before dropping them back to her side. “I’m sort of a spirit myself. I can get in.”

“I see,” she said with some nervousness. “Well, I need the help. I’m Torraline Minsk, and I was Chief of Accounts. Now… Aelune is gone and we have three people claiming to be her. They all know the pass phrase and I don’t know how to tell them apart. We’ve only got until night and I don’t know who she is.”

“Three? I thought you only had two spirits.”

“Aelune and Vynne,” she agreed. “Right. We’ve had two people in here before, but never three. I didn’t know what to do other than ask for help, so I’m really glad you’re here. I might have just had to guess.”

With a squint as he started thinking, he asked, “How do you normally determine the right person? You said you’ve had two of them here before.”

“Yes, we have,” she agreed while her body shook from nerves. She sat down on a bench that ran along the wall and Pascal joined her. “Aelune has a password, but it’s not always reliable. She tries to tell it to her new host. It doesn’t always work. And Vynne’s found it before too.”

“Tries to tell… How does this possession work, exactly?”

The woman’s eyes narrowed in turn. “Are you sure you’re here to help? Aelune and Vynne use all their strength in the first few minutes to change their host’s body to their liking and plant a few commands. Unless she can get to the Clear Stone by sunset, it will be years until she can do anything more. We need to get the right person to the Stone tonight.” The woman grabbed at Pascal in supplication.

Possession worked differently here than in most places. He imagined taking a body and molding it to his liking, but then he not doing anything more for years. It would be horrible to be a prisoner like that. Would changing someone’s body be better or worse than taking them over? He wasn’t sure. He also didn’t need to find out. His body was fine for now.

Angry at his own thoughts, he growled “What else do you have?”

“I’m not usually– I mean, I’m Chief of Accounts,” she protested. “The Minister is supposed to handle this. Or her Secretaries, but they’re both outside tonight.” She paused to think about it and said, “I think they hoped Aelune would take them, and she can’t take anyone inside the Shell. No one expected things to go wrong like this.”

“Fine. Then take me to the Minister. Let me talk to her,” he almost snarled. He wasn’t impressed with Torralene.

Another pause, “I forgot to tell you, didn’t I? She’s– she’s dead. I went to get her after Aelune left. There was so much blood. Her neck–”

“And you didn’t mention this until now?” Pascal stood up and balled his hands into fists. “Take me there,” he ordered.

Murder. Pascal knew he could feel guilty about his joy later. For now he had a real mystery to solve.

The mousy woman started walking before she stopped and turned back to him, resolution written on her face. It was new territory for it. “No. No. That’s not… That’s not what’s important now. I need… we need to know who to put on the seat by nightfall. Ma Zen… I’m sorry,” she whispered, “she has to wait.”

Pascal didn’t say anything. Instead he stared. He was good at staring and it usually produced the correct results. He didn’t have any of his ghostly abilities, probably as a result of Aelune’s absence. It shouldn’t matter. Staring should be sufficient.

It wasn’t.

He could see the clerk stiffen her spine and stand a bit straighter. She looked like a school teacher standing in front of her class. “No. Later. If there’s time. Aelune is more important. Everyone is at risk if we don’t…”

With a wan smile he gave in. For the moment. “Fine. So what am I looking for? Do they know who possessed them? Am I looking for a liar, or someone who’s been tricked?”

“They know,” she insisted.

“Where are they?”

“We had them in Aelune’s receiving room for a while,” she said while looking nervously away. “Then Dansel… he’s one of the new consorts– maybe. If she likes him. Anyway, he said it might be better to keep them apart and we…”

“Smart guy,” Pascal interrupted. He wished they’d done that from the start, but he knew the old saying about wishes and horses. “Let me talk to them. One at a time.”

“Of course. This way.” The relief on her face was clear. This was someone else’s burden now. It was his. The shard would live or die based on his deductions.

High enough stakes could make a dead man feel alive.

---

“Oh, you’re back,” said the young woman as she shook the sleep out of her eyes. “You’re new,” she grumped to Pascal. “Are we done yet? I’m gonna have bags under my eyes when you give me the Stone.”

The woman was slightly taller than Pascal, with straight black hair falling down to her shoulders. She was athletic, with long legs and small but firm breasts. She wore a brown skirt with a tight belt and an ill fitting white blouse. A pair of black flats were abandoned nearby. Striking bright blue eyes shone against her pale skin, setting off her straight aristocratic nose.

Looking at Torralene, she pleaded “I don’t want to answer any more questions. I want to get changed into something nice for the ceremony. I am Aelune and the others aren’t.”

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Pascal answered smoothly as he stepped forward.

They were in a dining room with a small table that could seat ten. Paintings on the wall showed the same man and woman at work in the fields in different seasons of the year.

“Oh come on,” she whined while sitting down across the table from Pascal. “This is, what, the third time tonight. What more do you expect to find out? I’m Aelune. See? Body changed and everything. Now, I’ve got to get some sleep if I’m going to look good for the ceremony tonight. I want everyone to see me at my best, right? So if you’re going to ask me anything, do it quick.”

“Tell me where you were when you– changed? The spirit came on you? What is the right term?”

She laughed and looked at the ceiling. Good. He’d thrown her off balance and she was thinking it over. “Becoming. I became Aelune. I was out with some friends. We were at the night market looking at boys. It was nothing serious, except maybe with Sann. I think she was sweet on a guy at the cobblers.”

“How old were you?”

Her eyes flicked aside before returning to him, “I just turned 17 a month ago. I think I’m a few years older now, which would be all yuck but Aelune lives a long time so I guess it kind of works out. And I mean, this place is all luxe and all, and did you see the guys? Some of them are yum.” She warmed to her subject and waved her hands about while speaking.

“I have to ask; what was your name? I’ve got to talk to all of you, and I can’t go calling you all Aelune.”

“I am Aelune. Me. Not the others.” She put her hands on the table like she was about to stand and her eyes blazed. But her hands shook and she stopped where she was. “Dienne. Dienne Sorch.”

Pascal looked at Torralene for confirmation and the old woman stared back evenly. He cocked an eyebrow and she shrugged. She had been locked inside too, with no way to communicate out. He’d hoped they had a census or something of the sorts to confirm that there was a Dienne Sorch, but apparently not. This may have been a temple and government center once, but the tourist trappings at the entrance gave away the game that it wasn’t any longer.

“All right then, Dienne.” He held up his hand as she opened her mouth to protest, “Just for now. Tell me more about when you became Aelune. As many details as you can remember.”

“We were at the market. There were,” a slight pause and a blink, “four of us. Sharing one of those mango fruit drinks from Broken Shore nearby, mostly so Sann could pretend she wasn’t watching her boy across the street.”

“What time was this?”

“I don’t know,” she raised her arms up and bit her lip in exasperation. “They’d rung midnight, so it was after that. All the lights went out, all at once. I jumped up and so did a lot of other people but Sann stayed cool like she was all that. Yeah, she figured it out before I did - before most people did, but it didn’t take long. Everyone was like ‘Aelune has left us,’ and all. There was still light from some of the stoves so people started making torches. A little slut across the way volunteered her shirt for a torch,” she laughed.

“I see. What happened then?”

“I felt tingly. Like my feet went to sleep, but my arms too. I thought something was wrong at first, but then I caught on. It was just like in The Bird in the Bucket.” She smiled fondly. Pascal didn’t catch the reference, but she said it like it was a given, so he gathered it was a popular children’s tale.

“I ran away as soon as I realized,” she continued. “I was worried it was, you know, Vynne. I didn’t want Sann to see.” Pascal could see the lines around her eyes. “Then I got all stiff and I couldn’t move any more, I lost control.”

“Where did you run to?” It was fascinating to hear what possession was like from the other side. These spirits didn’t seem to fear possession. He hated possessing people, a full body was just so much stronger than a shade that he was always in danger of getting lost. They didn’t have that problem and he wondered briefly if it was part of the local rules. He let that go as unworthy.

She stumbled briefly as she thought about it, caught her voice and took a moment. Looking up at the ceiling again, she said “Down one of the alleys. We were at the fruit stand, so that would be the– dressmakers. It’s not like I was looking at the time.” Pascal tried to keep his face neutral.

“Go on.”

“I could feel my body change, like it was taffy and someone was squeezing it. It didn’t hurt. Not really, but it felt strange. I’m taller now, and I lost a bit up here,” she cupped her breasts and frowned slightly. “My hair’s way too short but that’ll grow and I like the color but I won’t be getting much sun with this skin. She also changed my clothes. I had a wicked black and yellow outfit, but she didn’t like it. So now it’s this. Before her control faded I got two commands; come here, and my name is Aelune.”

She slumped in her chair and sobbed, “I was worried. I really was. If it was Vynne, if that’s who I was now, I think I’d just– I don’t know really.”

He wished he knew what he was looking for. But when you didn’t know, just keep fishing. “So you came here. How’d you get in?”

“There was a crowd in front of the Shell. I mean the lights went out everywhere and it’s not like Sann is the only one who’s smart enough to figure out what it means. They’ve only been telling us for the last month that it could be any day now. So people came to watch and it was just kind of a crowd. I sort of walked around them and got to the gate. I heard someone yell, so I guess they saw me but the door opened and I couldn’t stop myself until I was inside.”

“Who opened the door?”

She stared agog. “It opened on its own. I’m Aelune. The door opened for me.” He voice rose as she went, nearly to a yell.

“How much?” Curiosity. Did she have to squeeze in too?

“All the way,” she answered with some doubt.

“And then what?”

“I came back here. The receiving– My receiving room. It’s where she found me,” she said pointing to Torralene.

The older woman nodded. “I tried to tell Ma–” She stopped and gathered her thoughts. “Well, when one of the guards found the other girl I brought her to the receiving room and there this one was already. So we left them there.” Getting defensive, she said, “We’d never had a third. I figured the room would belong to one of them, and Aelune and Vynne were used to dealing with each other.”

Pascal nodded. “Thank you, Dienne. I think that will be all for now.”

---

Pascal saw the young woman snap alert as soon as Torralene opened the door. She got up awkwardly, almost rolling onto the floor but catching herself quickly.

“Let me guess. More questions,” she said while standing up.

She was the same height as Pascal, with curly brown hair that fell down her neck. A small sharp chin gave her face a triangular appearance like a fox, but the predatory shape of her face was offset by freckles across her nose and strongly pronounced dimples. She wore an ill fitting long blue dress, but it couldn’t hide her wide hips and large breasts.

“You’re going to try to prove I’m not Aelune,” she said to Pascal, halfway between a statement and a question. “How am I supposed to prove that she took me over?”

“You can start by answering some questions. I’m going to try to put it all together, so it would help if you tell the truth. Not that I expect it.”

Torralene frowned. She did not approve of him taking a blunt tone to someone who might be Aelune. The Shell was a tourist attraction more than a temple, but some of the old forms of respect still lingered around the spirit. It didn’t hurt that she was also rich and powerful, and was needed to give birth to wizards and for magic to function in the shard.

To make it short, she wasn’t someone to insult casually.

If this was her. And that’s what he had to find out. If he insulted her in the process, at least he didn’t have to live here.

They were in a small library and his fingers itched to pore over the books, or at least the titles. Two walls were covered in books, with a display case along one wall showing off a collection of fine jewelry. Aelune sat back down on her couch and inched forward while Pascal took a seat nearby.

“Let’s start with where you were when you became Aelune.”

“Swimming,” she said with a frown. She leaned forward and gave Pascal a great view of her cleavage. When she saw his eyes she backed up suddenly and flushed, but continued without interrupting herself, “I was soaked. She didn’t leave me dressed for the water. It was cold walking here, but they at least got me something dry even if it is a–”

She stopped, and Pascal had to provide a leading question. “A what?”

“A dress,” she admitted. “I was Derrik Blane. I’m a, that is, I was a man. Until last night, anyway.”

“So why were you swimming at night?” He saw her eyes widen. She was expecting him to react to her confession.

“It was a nice night,” she said quickly and defensively. Her hand tightened on the arm of the couch. “I like to swim. I did. I hope I still do.”

“Derrik–”

“Aelune,” she responded quickly.

“For now, let’s stick with Derrik,” Pascal insisted. “I’ve got three of you to talk to and it’ll get confusing if I call you all the same thing.”

She made a cutting gesture but got distracted when she saw her hand. With an embarrassed nod she agreed. “All right. But look, I have to get used to this. So make it Deri.”

Pascal raised an eyebrow but nodded. “That’s pretty quick adapting, Deri.” When he possessed a woman he had to start thinking of himself as a woman quickly, but he’d learned that through experience. Also, he’d been on the other end of the possession, knowing it was coming. He was surprised to see an inexperienced victim adapting so quickly.

She choked out a sob. “What can I do? You know it can happen to anyone, but you never really expect it to be you. Then it is. Weasel Spit, I haven’t even been married a year yet. What am I supposed to tell Elli? Remember your husband, well it’s me now. Do I bring her here with me or– We can’t stay married, damn it all.”

Since he didn’t really know what he was looking for, Pascal decided to follow up on that. He’d get back to the transformation later. “Is that right? Most shards are pretty open about allowing different arrangements if people want, and I understood Aelune was largely outside the rules anyway. Especially given your situation…”

Deri looked down and stared at her breasts for a moment. She moved her hands slowly towards them and stopped, putting them back in her lap and then on the arm rest. “You’re not from here, are you? It’s my job now– I have to,” she took a deep breath, “I have to have children. Wizards. It wouldn’t be fair to Elli.”

“An interesting job,” Pascal said despite himself. It just slipped out.

Deri turned away and her face turned beet red. “That’s not the only thing I have to do but it’s one of the important ones. I mean, yeah, I saw some of the guys and they look… good.” She wouldn’t come close to looking at Pascal when she said that. “But I don’t know how I’ll– I mean, I know I have to, but…”

She fell silent and Pascal waited a moment before giving her a break, “Let’s get back to the transformation. Describe what happened.”

Deri shuddered and then looked back at Pascal. “I thought I was having a heart attack and was going to drown. I panicked.” Her eyes drifted down and her hand twitched. “I didn’t figure it out until my clothes changed. I was getting dragged down because they were heavy and that’s when it all clicked. I’d heard that Aelune was going to leave soon; I think everyone knew that. I guess I was wasn’t watching the shoreline. If I’d seen the lights go out I might have figured it our earlier and spared myself a bit of panic.”

“What did your clothes change into?”

“Some kind of pull over shirt and loose leggings. Red and gray. Black slippers too.”

“So you were fully dressed, including shoes, while you were swimming?”

“No. I–” She stopped and her eyes narrowed. Finally she took a deep breath, smiled and looked at Torralene and then back at Pascal. “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? I might not have been swimming. I was rowing out to meet a contact. We sometimes arranged for ‘specialty goods’ that don’t quite get taxed. I mean, I’m Aelune now, you won’t arrest me for that.”

“No, we won’t,” agreed Torralene.

“So how did you fall into the lake?” Pascal wasn’t going to be distracted.

She frowned, “When I started changing, my partner pushed me off.” After a moment, “I’m not entirely sure I can blame him. And I am a strong swimmer, so…”

“How far out were you?”

“About two klicks. Far enough that people on shore won’t make out any details.”

Paz smiled grimly, “A very strong swimmer then. And in a new body, weighted down with unfamiliar clothes?”

Deri frowned, a cute expression. She rubbed her upper lip. “Now that you mention it… I am a good swimmer, but that is a lot. Maybe we were closer to shore than I thought. Or maybe Aelune– I don’t know,” she admitted.

“Very well. You made it to shore. What then?”

“I was wet and it was cold, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to get to the temple. It’s hard to describe. I knew what I was doing, but it felt like I didn’t have any choice in the matter. I knew my name changed, I’m Aelune now, but I was also still me. I kind of wish I’d paid more attention to the stories. Anyway, I just knew I had to get here, so I did. I tried to avoid attention and went to a side door. It opened for me.”

“I see,” Pascal added when she went silent. “And once inside?”

“I was back in control, I didn’t have anything I had to do,” she answered evenly. “But I was still cold and wet and I couldn’t leave. I wandered around until I found someone, I guess he was a guard. He was surprised to see me, but he brought me to her,” she pointed at Torralene. “She told me the building was mine now, and brought me to, well, my quarters, where we found another girl claiming to be Aelune. She left us there, and soon brought in a third.”

Turning back to Torralene, Pascal asked, “Is that right?”

“Yes. Well, except that I got her that dress to change into. She was soaking wet. They were Aelune’s, the last one. I know they don’t fit,” she said to Deri, “but if you like them you can have them adjusted.”

“I don’t want to think about dresses,” Deri mumbled resentfully. “Just straighten this out. If I have to lose Elli, I at least want the Stone.”

“If you are Aelune,” Pascal answered her, “just trust me. We’ll sort this out.”

He hoped he could live up to that promise. Lying to the powerful could carry harsh penalties.

---

The sun room was bright and cheerful. Luscious plants hung from the ceiling and decorated the room. Red, yellow, and violet flowers were all in bloom. Pascal could recognize roses, but beyond that he was out of his depth. The scent was strong but not overpowering. A few leaves lay on the floor, but the room was otherwise clean.

A young woman was walking among them, pulling off dead leaves and watering dry ones. She stopped when she saw Torralene and Pascal, “Tell me you’ve finally decided I’m Aelune.”

She was shorter than Pascal with long legs leading to wide hips and a thin waist. Her dark auburn hair fell down to the middle of her back with small curls. With her round face and thick lips she was the very image of sensuality. A short tight skirt and an off shoulder shirt that left her stomach bare could have made her look cheap, but without makeup or jewelry she gave it a touch of class. The ballet slippers she wore looked out of place.

“I’d love to tell you that, but I think it would look better all around if I asked a few questions first,” Pascal joked. He cursed himself inside for playing with this woman, but she had a strong effect on him.

“Don’t,” she protested. Her eyes were wide and her mouth open. She took a step back in horror. “Just. Don’t. Don’t do that.” She held up her hand in protest.

“Don’t do what,” he asked in a flat tone.

“Don’t flirt with me,” she answered. “I’m still a man, I don’t want– that.”

“I see,” he answered. “You were a man, then. What was your name?”

“Prior. Prior Delane.”

“Fine then, Prior–”

“It’s Aelune.”

“I’m sorry, I thought you just said–”

“I know. I was a man, but my name is Aelune now. It just is,” she protested while balling her fists and moving them down in frustration. She couldn’t help but look sexy.

“I get it. But let me call you Prior for the moment. It’ll help me keep the interviews separate.” She was not adapting to her change as quickly as Deri had. This was closer to what Pascal would expect, it was what he had been like the first time he’d had to possess a woman.

She nodded and put her hand on her leg just above the hem of her skirt. “All right,” she pouted, “for now.”

“Tell me, Prior, what were you doing when you became Aelune?”

She almost looked away. Her eyes flicked to the side for a second before she looked Pascal in the eyes. “I was at the Breathless Sigh. It’s a brothel.” She was grinning widely and her eyes shone.

Pascal coughed.

Cambrian said he’d heard there was a transformation at a brothel. She wasn’t one of the prostitutes, then. “And you were there for?”

She squinted in confusion, “To screw. What else do you go to a brothel for?”

“Who were you with?”

Another pause. “She said her name was Fallah. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. I’m not there to talk to them. Exotic looks, dark skin and black hair down to here,” she put her hand just slightly lower than her own hair.

“When was the first time you went there?”

She turned her head sharply and grabbed her ear with one hand. “Well, that’s–” She pursed her lips and stared at Pascal in anger. Finally, she said, “How’d you know?”

Pascal didn’t say anything, just raised an eyebrow.

“It was during the Arcadian Invasion. Forty five years ago.” She hung her head for a moment before looking Pascal in the eyes.

“So you were?”

“Almost seventy. Fine. Dirty old man, still going to the whore house. But what else am I going to do with my cash? Waste it?” She threw back her head and laughed.

“What unit?”

He could see the surprise in her eyes. She wanted him to laugh with her, or at her. She recovered quickly enough, “Eighteenth mounted.”

“Where were you stationed?”

“What kind of question–” After an instant’s hesitation she stepped towards Pascal with her hand raised in a fist. Pascal stood his ground and she stopped.

As a ghost, Pascal was much older than he looked. He wasn’t sure how old he was, so many memories had faded. But he fought in the Arcadian Invasion, and his usual partner, Brynn, was a refugee from that same war. He knew it well.

“Quarter Falls for a while,” she answered finally. “Until it fell. Then we hid for a while in Pinewood before we had to go on the march. We–”

“OK,” he answered. The eighteenth had been destroyed, but it turned out they’d been in hiding. If they hadn’t shown up in force at the Battle of Breaker Valley they’d have been hung as traitors. Prior knew their hiding place. “Back to the brothel. Describe the transformation, please.”

She tossed her head and brushed her hair back from her eyes as she changed subjects. Pascal kept his poker face solidly in place. “I had the girl on the bed with her legs spread for me,” Prior leered. It was unsettling to see a pretty girl talk like that. “I might have been old, but I could still get her off. We were going at it when my dick started tingling and it dropped. Thought it was the girl’s fault at first and gave her a bruise for her trouble– Don’t look at me like that. She’s just a whore.”

Pascal didn’t react. Torralene did. She made a tsking sound in her throat but didn’t comment further.

“It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening. The Sigh lit their gas lamps when the normal ones went out - gave the place a creepy vibe but I liked it. Once I knew what was happening I kind of enjoyed it. Got younger and stronger, but lost a bit down below if you know what I mean,” she leered again. “My clothes didn’t change, probably because I wasn’t wearing any, so I had to take some of her stuff. Then I made my way here.”

That explained the outfit.

“I was going to get her some of Aelune’s clothes after she told us her story,” Torralene interrupted, “but then Dansel said we should separate them to question them on their own. And I thought it would be better to leave them as they were.” After the damage was already done, thought Pascal.

“And now you’re here, young again, and Aelune?”

“Got that right,” she answered while rubbing her arm lightly. “This place is mine now. Almost makes it worth it. I am not looking forward to being on the receiving team. That– that’ll take a lot of drink.”

She suddenly turned her head to the side and laughed bitterly, “Hmph, guess I’m the whore now, since I’ll be doing it for all this. But boy, I cost a lot more than any girl I ever had.”

Torralene shook her head sadly. “Aelune is weak after taking them over,” she explained, “After she transforms the body and gives her commands there’s not much left. It would take years for her to do any more if she couldn’t use the Clear Stone. Once she does, she’ll have a lot more influence.” Directing the rest to Prior, she emphasized, “Aelune is not a– not a whore.”

“If you say so,” she responded with a sly smile.

“Thank you, Prior,” Pascal said simply. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a veteran. We’ll let you know what we find.”

He hadn’t known what he was looking for, but had almost found it. A working theory wasn’t enough. He needed proof. He had an idea where he could get it.

---

“Take me to the murder scene. I want to see the Minister,” Pascal told Torralene once they were back in the receiving room.

She shook her head. “I told you, Aelune’s more important. We’ll get to Ma–”

He gave her a withering stare, “You don’t find it a bit coincidental that she’s murdered the same night Aelune leaves you and you get three candidates showing up for the first time?”

She gasped and turned aside but then stopped and stiffened what spine she had. Paz was too eager to investigate a murder. “How sure are you this will help?”

So he spelled it out, “All three of them knew the pass phrase you set up for Aelune, right?”

She nodded. Her iron gray hair had come loose some time during the night and a few stray hairs bounced by her eyes. She brushed them out of the way with a small flare of annoyance.

“Aelune knew the pass phrase, so one of the three got it legitimately. How did the others find out?”

“Vynne has gotten the pass phrase before,” the old woman admitted. “She can’t enter the Shell while Aelune is in control, but she could have gotten someone who knew it to talk. It shouldn’t happen, but…”

“OK, that’s one. Your Minister knew the phrase, right?”

“Of course,” she nodded. Then stopped, realization flooding her face.

“Right. Her killer could have gotten it from her.”

“Then one of them–” she gestured helplessly back towards Aelune’s quarters.

“One of them could be her killer,” Pascal finished for her. The pain on her face was almost too much to bear.

“This way,” she choked and led on.

Pascal continued questioning her as they went up a flight of stairs. While she was in charge of the Shell with Aelune and the Minister gone, she was not doing an impressive job. It may be forgivable, as an accountant is not necessarily going to make a great emergency leader, but it still complicated his job. He was not in any mood to overlook her choking sobs or hold back because of it.

“When did Aelune depart? Exactly.”

“1:12.” When Pascal looked at her quizzically, she explained, “We have a clock powered by her magic. When she leaves, magic stops, so it records the time exactly.”

“When did your Minister die?”

“I don’t know. I’d guess it was before that. You know–”

“No, I don’t,” he said when it was clear she was not going to continue. “Remember I’m not from here. Spell it out for me.”

Another sob. “We gathered up outside Aelune’s rooms when the lights went out. Ma Zenn should have come there too but didn’t. After a while I went to get her and found her–”

“How long did you wait before going after her?”

“No more than half an hour. She can have some trouble waking up and I didn’t want to seem too eager for her. But I was there with the guards and we were waiting and eventually I just had to go and get her. Ah, here we are.

“These were priestly quarters back when the Shell was a temple,” she continued. When describing the room she sounded like a tour guide with a deeper voice and no trace of sadness. “Now they’re the only government quarters in the Shell, and are used by the Wizard Minister. The offices don’t normally have a bed, but we place one in there when Aelune warns us she’ll soon be leaving so we can have an agent here at all times.”

The sitting room was a mess. Two chairs were knocked over and even a small sofa had been overturned. A display case had been forced open, the glass cover hanging on the side by a single hinge. Doors to the office and filing room were both wide open and the Minister’s body was clearly visible among the filing cabinets.

Stepping carefully over the debris, Pascal went to the back room. A small bed had been set up and the Minister was lying near its foot. A door to the office was propped open. None of the filing cabinets were open.

While Torralene watched in horrid fascination, Pascal knelt down to examine the body. It was stiff, in full rigor mortis. He would estimate she died about 12 hours ago, which fit with what he’d been told. There was a small smooth pool of blood beneath her.

He looked closely at her neck; there was bruising along the back of the neck and skull. If he had a lab he could get more information and some of it would certainly be useful. His most useful tools were always his eyes and brain, and they’d given him what he needed.

He stood up and almost bumped into his guide. She’d expected him to take longer or do something more impressive. She was equally clearly looking for explanations. Pascal was not ready to give any. He went silently to the office.

A large desk dominated the room. The desk chair and the chairs for visitors were all overturned. All the desk drawers had been pried open and their contents scattered around the room. The ashes in a large fireplace still smoldered.

Three volumes were on the floor near the desk. The first dealt with legal issues surrounding the transition, the second was a treatise on identifying the spirits, and the third concerned spirits from other shards coming to the Crystal Vale. Some pages were dog-eared, but none were torn.

“There was a fire in there when you got here,” he announced, pointing at the fireplace. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” she answered anyway. “It’s a little warm, but she was old and liked it warm at night.”

He poked gently at the ashes and found a corner of unburned paper. “Her notes. Whatever she was reading in those books, and probably the pass phrase.”

Torralene’s face fell.

He quickly paged through the volumes, looking at the pages that had bent corners.

“Why do they always refer to Aelune as ‘she’ but Vynne as ‘it’?”

“That one’s easy,” she answered. “Spirits can be male, female, or neither. Aelune is a woman, so she always transforms her body to be female and her children are wizards. A male spirit transforms his body to be male and his children are warriors - they’re strong and usually marked in some way, you know, horns, a tail, lizard eyes, something like that. A neuter spirit doesn’t change its host’s body’s sex, and its children are wizards or warriors depending. Vynne is a neuter spirit, which is another reason we don’t want it on the Seat. We need to have wizards–”

She suddenly realized what she was saying and stopped in alarm. “That’s it, why didn’t I see it before? Dienne has to be Vynne, she’s the only one that started as a woman.”

Pascal tried to stare her down but she was too excited by the idea and ran to the door. He grabbed her arm and she spun around roughly, “What?”

“You’re assuming they all told the truth. Don’t.”

“Then–”

“Each of them lied at least once.”

“You know that?” She was incredulous.

“I know that,” he answered simply.

“But–”

“This is all wrong,” he admitted.

“Then we’re back where we started,” Torralene wailed.

Pascal sighed. “It feels wrong to have the answers with over two hours to spare. It’s more dramatic if I wait until the last minute and wrap things up just as the sun goes down. If my partner Brynn were here I’m sure he’d find some reason to make us wait, but I don’t have his flair for the dramatic. Let’s bring everyone together and wrap this up.”

She smiled the smile of someone relieved of a heavy burden.

He put it back.

“Have your guards there. One of them’s a killer.”



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Fall of Night

I really like your Fall of night stories. The universe is very creative and interesting. Pascal is a great character who is so full of flaws, but who is also effective. I rather miss Brynn since he makes such a great foil for Pascal, but I can see where this story wouldn't work well with him.

I'm looking forward to seeing this mystery solved. :)
Hugs
Grover

I tried putting Brynn in

I had a scene for him early on, but it just wasn't adding anything. I wanted to keep this one to short story length, so couldn't bring him along and he just didn't add enough to the story.

I do have another, longer mystery in mind to do, and Brynn has a bigger role in that one. Thanks, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

titania.jpg

Titania

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

love part 1!

another cool Fall of Night story, thank you!

DogSig.png

Thank you

Glad you liked it, and hope you like the solution as much.

titania.jpg

Titania

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

If Raymond Chandler Had Watched Blade Runner

He might - and I mean might - have come up with a story this good.

Your prose is replete with delicious phrases, you play with language like an architect shaping plasticine, your narrative is impeccably constructed and dripping with savvy sense, your dialogue addictive.

It takes some skill to build a realistic picture of a world where 'reality' is not the comforting matrix of constructs we're used to in this universe. You have managed it with extraordinary panache.

I confess to feeling quite envious.

fa 144a.jpg Nicki

Wow

Well, thank you for the praise. I'm glad I could affect someone so much, and I'm very grateful for it. I'll put up the solution early next week,

titania.jpg

Titania

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Fall of night is exotic,

Fall of night is exotic, enchanting and amazing.
Pascal is the coolest ever!

Haha what else can I say but I loved fall of night (the series) and I am thoroughly enjoying this story.
I can't wait to see how it all works out!

Xx
Amy

Nice Mystery

I don't normally read mysteries but I'm glad I started this one. I love the otherworldly feel to this. It's very strange and exotic and I love that.

I'm going to send you a private message to say who I think everyone is. I don't want to give away the game just in case.

Thanks and kudos.

- Terry

Glad you liked it

I got your message, and it's a good theory. Tune in tomorrow for part 2 with all the answers...

I'm glad you like Fall of Night, it's an interesting playground. I like the area, but it makes mysteries a bit tough since I have to establish local rules each time. On the other hand, I like Pascal and Brynn, so will keep working on it. Thanks again,

titania.jpg

Titania

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

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